The blogosphere, the fiber optic cables, and the airwaves have been buzzing with stories about Sarah Palin who, during a television interview connected with her speech at the conservative Tea Party convention, used crib notes written on her palm. You can see the infamous moment on YouTube. To compound the moment, Ms. Palin, threw a stone at the White House from her glass house during her speech when she said, "This is about the people. And it's bigger than any king or queen of a tea party. And it's a lot bigger than any charismatic guy with a teleprompter."
The White House shot right back at her when Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, during a briefing session, read a mock grocery list he had written on his palm, in a clear poke at Palin.
Frank Rich, the New York Times columnist who, until recently, is usually supportive of Obama, was not amused, "the president might have more profitably instructed his press secretary to drop the lame Palin jokes and dismantle the disinformation campaign her speech delivered to a national audience."
Nancy Benac of the Associated Press summed up the sharp exchange on the subject, "Obama's critics point to his podium and teleprompter as evidence of [his] disconnect. Palin's critics point to her flesh-and-ink crib notes as one more sign she's a lightweight. Or maybe all these two have shown is that they're human and need a little help remembering key points."
The fact of the matter is that every presenter needs a little help remembering key points. In the case of a president, because the media weighs, scrutinizes, and analyzes every word, the teleprompter is essential to avoid misstatements. In the case of politicians and personalities, their handlers prepare for public appearances with as much attention to detail as the Allies did for invasion of Normandy. But in the case of business presentations, there is margin for error. Audiences--who know just what it's like to present--have empathy for presenters and are tolerant of imperfection.
Nonetheless, every presenter wants to deliver a clear story, free of gaffes. So how can you remember what to say when you are standing in front of an audience? The answer is the blinding flash of the obvious: Your slides are your crib notes.
A widely-held belief in business is that, if a presenter looks at a slide, he or she appears to be unprepared. Wrong! The instant a new slide pops onto the screen, your audience, in the blink of an eye, looks at it, and they do so involuntarily. Unlike the unblinking eye of the television camera which caught Sarah Palin glancing at her palm, your audience will be so absorbed in your slide, they won't see you turning to look at it. As soon as you take that look, you will know just what to say next.
(You can read more about slides as memory prompts in a prior blog.)